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Georg von Neumayer

Photo: NeumayerOn the 5th August 1852 Georg Balthasar von Neumayer, astronomer and geophysicist, arrived in Sydney on the Reiherstieg at the age of 26. He was a qualified seaman who carried out geological and magnetic investigations during travels in Australia after the crew of the Reiherstieg deserted the ship for the goldfields. He spent eight weeks on the Victorian goldfields. Returning to Germany, he found support and money for his plan to build and organise in Melbourne an observatory for geophysics, magnetism and nautical science on Flagstaff Hill. King Maximilian II of Bavaria and the British Association for the Advancement of Science gave him funds, and Johann Godeffroy, a Hamburg senator and owner of a shipping company, gave Neumayer free transport for himself and all the observatory equipment on the La Rochelle. He arrived in Melbourne in 1857. In 1859 he was made a member of Victoria's "Exploration Committee", but in 1864 he left his directorship of the observatory and returned to Germany. Neumayer was director of the German Hydrographic Office in Hamburg (which he co-founded) from 1876-1903 and contributed to the development of German polar research. Germany's research station in Antarctica is named after him, as is a crater on the moon. Neumayer Valley, a cattle station south-west of Normanton in north Queensland and a nearby parish are also named after him (named on 15th February 1862 by the explorer William Landsborough, who was searching for traces of the Burke & Wills expedition). You can read about Neumayer Station in the Antarctic in the website of the Alfred-Wegener-Institute.
(Photo of Neumayer: La Trobe Picture Collection, State Library of Victoria)

Neumayer also played a role in the establishment of the new observatory on the present-day site next to the Botanical Gardens. It appears that it was his decision to move the Observatory from Flagstaff Hill to the present location. He made numerous astronomical observations on the meridian pier at this new Observatory to determine the latitude of it. His home was in Domain Road, South Yarra, not far from the new Observatory. Astronomy was an important science in a colony that relied so much on the navigation of sailing ships.

(Photo © D. Nutting) observatory
Observatory next to the Botanical Garden

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